J and I work in semi-related industries at companies in close enough geographic proximity that we’ve crossed paths at least once.
A few weeks ago, we realized it was going to happen again. Separately, we were both invited to a reception thrown by a sales rep that works with both of our companies. While these sorts of receptions are notoriously boring, attendance is often as much a professional courtesy as the invitation.
We talked about how we’d handle it, and we both agreed that we would keep our relationship secret. There would really be no reason to explain it, and besides, the idea of stealing glances across a set of glossy posterboards might make a night of cheap wine and bad hors d’oeuvres somewhat bearable, and maybe even fun.
At 7:30, I arrived half an hour late and I saw J immediately across the poorly lit conference room-turned-reception area. I was struck by the fact that he looks nearly as good in a jacket and tie as he does wearing nothing at all.
I walked the perimeter of the room and made my way to the refreshments area to get a glass of wine. Politely avoiding small talk, I pretended to browse a product display table while I watched J talk with a few similarly dressed men, all quite a few years older. I love watching him, and I was pleased to see him crane his neck to look through the crowd a few times, looking for me, I assume. He didn’t see me. With the exception of too-dark-for-the-office lipstick and too-tall heels, I blended in with everyone else attired in dark shades of office-appropriate drab.
After being politely chatted up by a man from a rival company, I checked back to see what J was doing. The circle was nearly unchanged, with the exception of one new addition to the group–a trim, tanned blond woman who stood dangerously close to J. She was engaged with the whole group, but I didn’t like the way her body was turned slightly towards his. I sized her up immediately–she was very pretty, in her 40s, with an expensive haircut and tailored suit.
I have no idea whether it was my general vanity or some J-specific jealousy, but I began to tally up our differences in my head. She was blond and my hair is dark. She was tastefully tanned. I’m very pale. She was tall and thin with long legs and small breasts that might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for her well-tailored jacket. I have ample breasts and a proportionately hourglass figure, all atop legs that are little short for my frame. She moved gracefully and smiled neatly. I’m awkward and laugh easily.
All of the silly, girly anticipation of seeing J “in public” disappeared and I felt heat rising in my cheeks. I have no idea whether I was angry that she was standing so close or angry that he let her stand so close.
From the way they moved, it seemed they knew each other–either that or she was very forward. As I watched them talk, she rested her hand on his forearm, and almost automatically, he loosely closed his fist and pulled his arm–and her hand–in towards his side.
In the minutes that followed, I imagine the others in the group saw the same flirtation I did and wandered away, leaving J and the woman standing together. They chatted politely at first, but she was still touching him. Worse than that, he was letting her. At one point, she tilted her head to whisper something in his ear.
Why the fuck does she need to whisper? No one was listening in and what could she possibly have to say that needed whispered? As she pulled away, her lips brushed his ear. Fucking bitch. As her mouth curled into a neat little smile, pleased with whateverthefuck she had just said, he lifted his head and started scanning the room again. I wasn’t sure whether he was looking to find me, or looking to see whether or not I’d found him… with her.
When he saw me, his face broke into a broad smile, but he didn’t pull away from her. I didn’t smile back at him–I couldn’t–I just stared. I felt my eyes widen and jaw drop half an inch. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions–everything I’m feeling plays across my face. I’ve always hated that about myself, but I can’t help it.
After several long moments, I was able to look away. Without thinking, I set my drink down on the display table next to me, turned, and walked out of the room more quickly than I should have.
As soon as I was in the hallway, I panicked. It’s no secret that I’m a jealous lover, but I don’t like letting it show, especially not in public, and especially not at a work event.
Go back in? Maybe. I paced a little. Why the fuck did I have to react like that? React to nothing, really. Those moments–when I’ve literally or figuratively stormed out of a room–have defined too many of my past relationships. It’s never really about their actions, but my reactions.
Fuck fuck fuck. I wished I had downed more of that bad wine. I wished I hadn’t left. I wished I could play it cool.
Goddammit. Just walk back in.
I was interrupted by my phone–a text message from J. “You okay? What’s up?”
I thought about a response for a few seconds… should I mention the woman? Be angry? Be casual? Should I respond at all?
My reactions and responses seem to fuck everything up anyway–I might as well embrace it. I tapped out my reply on my way to the lobby. “Everything is fine. I’ll be back in a few.”
After a quick interchange with the man at the front desk, I had a receipt and a room key card. The clerk had instructions to give J a key card when he came to the desk to ask for it. I awkwardly sent the bell hop off when he asked if he could help me retrieve my luggage from my car. I had no luggage.
Up to the room, fourth floor. Inside the door, I set my purse down at the foot of the bed and stared at it. I had no other bags and no idea what to do with myself–or with anyone else–in an empty hotel room. I paced around a little before eying the closet. I untied the cord from the complimentary dry cleaning laundry bag and stuffed it in my purse.
More pacing. I found a pen and little pad of paper on the nightstand and scratched out a note, “Take the blankets off the bed and fold them. Take off all of your clothes, lay down, and wait for me there.”
I put the note on the corner of the bed, checked myself in the mirror, and left the room.
Thankfully, on a weeknight, the hotel bar was nearly empty. I sat, ordered a drink, and sent J a text message.
“Give your name at the front desk. They’ll give you a key. Go now.” I hit “send” as the bartender set my drink in front of me. Perfect timing.